Elijah Nimijean | Student Success Series

Elijah Nimijean, Psychology student at McGill University

This blog has been reviewed by Katya Santucci and Catherine Cimon-Paquet, edited by Rémi Thériault

Elijah, tell us a little bit about yourself

Hey everyone! My name is Elijah Nimijean, and I am currently a third-year university student majoring in psychology with a minor in sociology. I enjoy listening to music, working out (when gyms aren’t closed due to global pandemics), playing video games, and reading science fiction novels. I also enjoy writing, hence my participation as a student blog writer on behalf of the CPPA Student Ambassador Program.

I have always been one to engage in a number of extracurricular activities. As a child I played the cello, before transitioning to studying the violin and viola for almost twelve years. During early adolescence, I joined a local karate team. As a teenager, I became a member of both the choir and concert orchestra at Loyola High School, before moving on to study Liberal Arts at Marianopolis College.

Suffice it to say, my life has been replete with opportunities to connect with others and to form meaningful relationships. Yet despite them all, I have always remained somewhat introverted, closed off, and aloof. For most of my early life, I was deeply troubled by my social difficulties. It wasn’t until I matured into a young adult that I began to view myself in a more positive regard and embrace who I am.

Photo credit: Ewan Yap

I decided to major in psychology because it has always been the subject that interested me the most. To me, learning about the mind was far more exciting than either math, geography, or economics. Psychology is what made school interesting. However, I believe another reason why I became so interested in the field was out of a desire to better understand myself; to understand why I thought and behaved the way I had for most of my life.

What do you think made you successful as a student?

Although we all have different definitions of academic success, I believe that self-reliance is what most significantly contributed to mine. By self-reliance, I mean navigating the student life largely independently: doing homework/assignments by myself; forgoing study groups or working with partners; preparing and studying for exams using my own notes. Many of you reading may disagree with this recommendation. Intuitively, we might think that working together is the best approach to success. I will admit, my outlook may have been largely informed by my lack of social prowess. Yet, if you’re anything like me, these tips could be particularly useful to you.

Personal experience throughout my schooling — from elementary to university — has taught me that success can only come from within oneself. When you over-rely on the work of your classmates or the work of those who took the same class in the past, you deny yourself the opportunity to comprehensively learn the material on your own. More than that, you put yourself at risk, if your teammates’ notes or work are incorrect or misleading.

Photo credit: Compare Fibre

To any student who may be reading this, please know I am not suggesting you isolate yourself entirely from your peers. Sometimes, a topic can only be learned if you examine it from a perspective offered by your classmates. But as many of our professors have told us before, it is important to do your own work. Tests and exams are not group efforts; they are wholly an examination of your personal knowledge and skills. It is only when we understand the material ourselves that we will succeed academically. And I believe that nothing fosters a better understanding of academic material more efficiently than studying the material by oneself.

What strength, skill, strategy, mindset, or habit allowed you to get where you are today?

Throughout my academic journey, I adopted a number of study strategies and habits that I believe were instrumental to my success. The first strategy is perhaps the most intuitive, and the one many of you may already know: testing yourself on the material you are trying to learn. Imagine yourself as both the instructor and the student; as someone who is trying to explain the concept to an individual who knows nothing about it. The more effectively/simply you can communicate the concept — without relying on overly complex ideas or heuristics — the better you likely understand it.

If this doesn’t work for you, another strategy I recommend is simply developing a strategy, and having the fortitude to adhere yourself to it. Commit an hour or two every few days to studying the topic, going over your class notes, and ensuring that you actually understand the material. If you adopt the mindset that these study periods are non-negotiable — that they are as inflexible and absolute as the sunrise, or an exam — then with enough repetitions, you will find yourself studying almost automatically. And if an hour is too hard, start small — perhaps study for 15–20 minutes instead and try to gradually increase the duration in further sessions.

Photo credit: Denise Jans

The more effectively you can communicate the concept, the better you likely understand it.

That being said, I believe that the most successful strategy is the following: trying not to copy lecture/presentation notes verbatim. Oftentimes, in class, a student’s attention will be divided between listening to what the lecturer is saying, and trying to write down everything they say. Rather than the latter process, I believe that students should focus entirely on attentively listening to what the lecturer is saying. Many university students are already used to their professors uploading lecture recordings; the adjustments made to academic life in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have only increased student access to course material. So rather than struggling to copy every line of text on a PowerPoint slide, or trying to transcribe every word spoken by a lecturer, I think you will be far more successful if you actively listen to what the presenter is saying, think about it, and consider the material even after the lecture has ended. And, if a concept is proving particularly difficult to understand, you have the luxury of going back and watching the recording.

How would you invite other students to cultivate those qualities?

Many of the strategies discussed above relied on one common element: ensuring that you actually understand the course material you are studying. It may seem obvious that the answer to succeeding in school is simply to understand the material. But I think that many students — myself included — often delude ourselves into thinking that we understand a topic better than we actually do. If we took the time to (1) ask ourselves whether we truly understand a topic comprehensively, (2) think about it long after the lecture (outside of school and class environments), and (3) recognize how much more we have to learn about it, then I believe we would find far more success as students.

Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez

It is at this point that I would like to share a quote with you all, that has heavily influenced my outlook on school, and which I believe contributed greatly to my success as a student. Ironically enough, the quote is from a video game, Darkest Dungeon. In response to failing an expedition, the narrator of the game occasionally utters: “You cannot learn a thing you think you know”. Considering how vilified video games tend to be with regards to a student’s aptitude, I find it funny that this line of dialogue so aptly captures the essence of what makes someone a strong student.

Any last words you’d like to share with fellow students?

Thank you all for reading my blog post. If you’d like to contact me, my email address is elijah.nimijean@mail.mcgill.ca. I would also strongly recommend that you guys check out the Student Ambassador Program of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association at: https://www.cppa.ca/Student-Zone. If this blog was of interest to you, or if you’d like to contribute a blog yourself, please consider becoming a member of the CPPA., and join our ever-growing community.

If you liked this blog or if it has helped you in any way, please take a moment to like, share, or comment!

We are the Student Ambassador Program of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association (CPPA). Find our website here: https://www.cppa.ca/Student-Zone

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